In order of reading, but also the first one is the least whelming.
TULIP FEVER — Deborah Moggach
Ugh, period piece drama that needs to have a little more oomph to convince me it’s good literature. Okay, sorry, it is a fun premise (Amsterdam during the tulip craze of the 1600s, unhappily married woman starts affair with the artist painting her portrait), but the way the novel is structured is underwhelming. Each chapter changes POV, which is fine, but some of the characters didn’t need to get voiced as often as they were. I was much more intrigued by the sections that weren’t focused on a character, but on the painting itself. That was fun.
I read this one because it’s going to be a movie with Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz and let me tell you, I think the movie is going to be 200% better than the book. It’s the kind of story that needs to be told visually because so much of the drama is based on painting. Overall, it’s a quick read, and relatively harmless, but nothing that makes me scream “YES READ THIS PLEASE.” It’s more like, “Oh, that’s nice. The trailer looks good.”
(No, seriously. The trailer looks GOOD. Check it out.)
EXIT WEST — Mohsin Hamid
Really quickly on this one, a rep brought an ARC and suggested it to a coworker, who then said I had to read it. If this book doesn’t get nominated for some award this year, I’ll eat a bowl full of Brussel sprouts.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is a gorgeous (and brief) novel about a man and a woman who fall in love in a dangerous country, then try to escape the dangers of their home by venturing through doors. It’s politically poignant, and simultaneously magical in the fairy-tale-like structure. This is the kind of book you read in an afternoon but think about long after. And seriously, it’s going to be up for an award, I’m sure, and deservedly so.
THE APPRENTICE WITCH — James Nicol
So after A Conjuring of Light and the astonishingly magical world of Kell and Lila, it’s hard for me to start up another fantasy, but we received an ARC for a new young adult novel that was getting great reviews, so I tried it. The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol was originally published in the UK in July 2016 and is coming to the US this July.
Arianwyn is a young witch who has failed her final examination. While her school nemesis is assigned to a special position, Arianwyn is sent to Lull, a town with doubting villagers and magical creatures. Arianwyn makes some friends and discovers that the magic inside of her might be more than anyone believed possible, but there might also be a darker magic lurking in Lull…
Overall, this was a sweet book. Arianwyn is a fun young witch and the friends she makes in Lull are charming. I think my main problem with this was just that there is so much to develop but, as a young adult novel, the length is limited. If this does become a series, I can see how it could develop and I’d be interested enough to give book two a shot.
To be fair, I also have to say that another thing that influenced by reading of it was a conversation with my manager. I had looked up reviews online and told her that it was doing very well and that we should order at least one copy for the store; when she spoke with our rep, she ended up ordering a display of the book because it was getting great reviews and the man who got this one also signed J.K. Rowling at Bloomsbury.
Talk about high expectations.
It’s not even that anyone compared the book to Harry Potter, but the simple fact that I was told that the person who saw the awesomeness of HP picked this one taints my way of reading. The plain truth is that it’s a delightful book and has a lot of potential, and I would give it 4.5/5 stars.
Recommended for 8-12 reading levels (but I’d lean toward 9-10ish because it’s that same kind of interest as HP — young magicians with something to prove to the world and all that), and worth a read. I think it’s especially good that it’s due out in July because it’s a great summer-y kind of book.
And that concludes the brief wondrous blog entry of the Honest Reader. I’m currently working on Ron Chernow’s Washington, so updates might be infrequent due to me being crushed by 900+ pages of delightfully researched and written history. Wish me luck.